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The potential benefits are almost too good to be true: The energy to get through a long work day. Fewer days off sick. Offsetting the damage of a few beers and burgers. Feeling fit. Looking lean.
And that’s just the start of the effects that eating enough vegetables can have on an executive with a busy travel schedule. Keeping your brain sharp is another boon of scoffing greens.
The CARDIA study, published in 2019, followed the diets of more than 2600 participants for 30 years. The researchers found those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet during adulthood – a plant-based diet emphasising vegetables, fruits and wholegrains – had improved mid-life cognitive performance.
Sadly, most of us never release the full benefits of vegetables. Less than 4 per cent of us eat the minimum amount, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The chance of regular business travellers falling into that well-nourished minority are low, considering the challenges to eating well on the road.
Shift your food focus
If you want to eat better, a common approach is to focus on restricting the things you know aren’t health foods. Another is to focus on foods that are nutritious, and prioritise filling your plate with those. Many people find zeroing in on the good stuff is more motivating and easier to stick to.
The "healthy eating plate" in the Australian dietary guidelines indicates that vegetables should make up about one-third of your day’s food. That means munching through at least five serves of vegetables every day (six serves a day for men up to the age of 50).
What makes one serve? Half a cup of cooked veg, or one cup of salad. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy some delicious potato chips from time to time – just make sure you have a side dish of vegetables or salad as well.
Eating green in transit
In the airport food court. If you’re picturing a bowl of lettuce or kale, think again – there are many more delicious and filling options. Salads with legumes like lentils or chickpeas are particularly beneficial, thanks to their high fibre and protein content.
At the business lounge buffet, cover half of your plate with salad or vegetables before adding anything else. Just having a snack? Look for vegetable crudites to accompany your cheese and crackers.
Plant foods on a plane
Even if you’re not a vegetarian, consider pre-ordering a special vegetarian meal. As well as guaranteeing there will be a plant-based meal for you, as an added bonus you’ll be served first. If you like curry-type dishes, the Asian vegetarian meal is a reliably flavoursome choice.
If you have the standard meal, eating well is as straightforward as remembering you’re a grown-up in charge of your own health. Prioritise broccolini over a bread roll, for example.
At the destination
If you’re the one hosting clients or arranging a team dinner, you can certainly make the most of your control. Be proactive and choose the restaurant with the most nutritious menu. But even if you don't get a say in where you're dining, it's easy to design your own healthy meal that's heavy on the greens.
Just like you did at the airport, keep aiming to have half of every lunch and dinner made up of vegetables.
Check out the vegetarian options – think a roast vegetable stack rather than a creamy pasta. A small vegetarian pizza is another smart choice. On Asian and Indian menus, look for the vegetable stir fry, the lentil dahl, or the chickpea curry.
If a steak or burger is what your heart desires, you don’t have to forgo it, even though it probably only comes with one or two serves of veg. Just order a small one, and add a side salad or a vegetable soup starter.
At the hotel breakfast buffet, load up mushrooms, tomatoes, cooked spinach, or baked beans. An omelette with the lot (perhaps tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, capsicums and spring onions) will also help you achieve your daily target of five to six serves of vegies.
Supplements to fill the gaps
Despite your best efforts, consuming enough vegetables on the road is still tough. Greens powders could top up the inevitable gaps in your diet. They are portable, packable and instantly prepared – just stir into water.
To choose one, compare the nutritional information on different products side by side. Look for a balanced variety of nutrients, without many sugars or sweeteners.
A greens powder isn’t a substitute for whole food. But it could help you feel “full of beans” until you have the chance to eat real beans - and broccoli, carrots and chickpeas, too.